Ron Zarrella, president of General Motors North America, is clawing for market share this summer. GM's U.S. share is slipping as the market booms.
So in the midst of this struggle, Zarrella took time two weeks ago to buy the marketing and distribution rights for the Hummer. GM also agreed to work on future products with Hummer's manufacturer, AM General Corp.
Why, you might ask, would Zarrella spend five minutes thinking about yet another brand? GM has too many already, and this one sells a piddling 1,000 sport-utilities per year.
Because it was a canny move. But Zarrella must exploit it boldly.
The Hummer is hot. Its over-the-top looks and attitude have just the youthful juice that GM needs. Mountain Dew and other youth-oriented brands go out of their way to include the Hummer in promotions.
The Hummer is the 1999 equivalent of a souped-up 1956 Chevrolet. It is loaded with youth and rebellion.
I only hope GM uses the Hummer as more than a low-volume halo vehicle, such as the Dodge Viper or Plymouth Prowler.
Look at it this way: If you were a brand manager at General Motors, which assignment would you prefer: Take the Hummer brand to sales of, say, 500,000 per year; or nudge Buick or Oldsmobile back to their former glories.
I would much rather run with the Hummer.
It is time for GM to start thinking out of the box. Why couldn't GM crank the Hummer brand up and create, say, a four-vehicle Hummer lineup off existing GM platforms?
Distribution would be limited, of course. Hummer only has 52 dealerships. But indulge me: GM could parachute these new Hummers into GMC dealerships. And when the full lineup is on board, change the divisional brand name. Enter Hummer. Exit GMC.
Yes, this would cause an uproar. Many true-blue GMC buyers would be cast adrift, but most would find their way to Chevrolet.
At least a GMC-for-Hummer trade would be daring. Whatever GM does with Hummer, it must be bold enough to improve its market share.
News Editor Charles Child welcomes comments. Call him at (313) 446-0365 or send e-mail to [email protected]